Overview

Now that you’re thinking about biofuels… What’s your definition of a “biofuel”? And what do you think biofuels are used for?

Most of the fuel we burn in our cars and trucks is made from ancient sequestered solar energy that was converted into crude oil millions of years ago. Check out the other topics in our Energy Science category to learn more about the science of hydrocarbons. But up to 10 percent of that blended fuel actually contains modern renewable solar energy that’s been converted into what’s called ethanol, which is a type of biofuel that can help cars and trucks run cleaner and more efficiently.

If you studied photosynthesis, you know that plants, like corn, use solar energy in the chloroplasts in their leaves to covert atmospheric carbon dioxide, water and nutrients into carbohydrates; the starches and sugars that make up the plant. And during the process, plants give off oxygen, which is vital to us mammals.

In corn plants, it’s the corn seeds or kernels that have the greatest concentration of carbohydrates. That’s why they feed it to fatten livestock and poultry. Each kernel contains 62% starch, 20% protein and fiber, 15% water, and 4% oil. And it’s that converted and stored solar energy that ethanol refineries use to make ethanol. But that’s no easy feat. It requires serious science and technology as you’re about to discover as you watch this video.

To really decode the bio-chemistry science of ethanol production, have your teacher download the lesson activities below for hours of peer-driven learning in your classroom with your peeps. You can also learn lots more by reading the advanced information in the Learn More section below by clicking on the icon. Also, to learn about the production of biodiesel, another important biofuel, explore our videos and lessons ethanol. You’ll find them in the Energy Category on the Home page.

For fun, also take a moment and check out the jazzed ethanol industry careers video on the right. Then, click the link of our educational partner here to dig even deeper into the science of ethanol production.

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Available Lessons

Middle School Lessons

High School Lessons